As the cascade of coronavirus news continues to wash over me like white caps on a storm-tossed ocean, I don’t know what to feel.
Watching the news out of Seattle ... out of California ... out of Italy ... it feels like we’re all in lifeboats floating away from a rapidly sinking vessel, but instead of trying to cling to one another, we’re busy sawing at the ropes that bind us together, convinced we’ll be better off on our own. The darkness is a heavy thing, and the screams and cries of those who give voice to the gnawing fear I feel claws at the fringes of my troubled soul. I feel adrift and alone, unsure of which direction safety might be, keenly aware of the fathomless deep that yawns beneath me.
- All I can do, all I know to do, is cling to certain truths that feel sure, that feel real, that have the weight of anchors. I do not claim them to be the truths; only mine, and whether you agree or not is irrelevant, because they feel like the only things I can push over the side in hopes that when they reach the bottom, they might keep me from drifting too far into that yawning void.
Remember: Your greatest hopes have just as much of a chance of coming true as your biggest fears. An old friend told me that when I first came to the rooms of recovery, and I’ve tried to take it to heart ever since. I spent most of my life operating under a worst-case-scenario frame of mind, because my rationale was that if I expected the worst, I would never be disappointed. But that’s a heavy yoke to carry, and over time I began to see that expecting the worst often manifested it. Life isn’t unfair; it’s simply life, and learning to accept it on its own terms, instead of trying to dictate the terms, eases my mind.
- We’re all in this together. “Social distancing” and self-quarantines and flinching at the sound of someone’s cough or sneeze is completely understandable, even desirable … but I have to keep in mind that as we retreat to our respective homes, we need not retreat from one another. I get that the temptation to give in to an “every man for himself” mentality, but that’s damaging to my spirit. It’s far too easy to circle the wagons, to erect the barricades, and cast out anyone who doesn’t meet the exacting standards I set for inclusion in my little corner of the world, but that’s a pitiful, selfish and lonely way to live. I hope, I pray, that my thoughts and actions and words, even in times of quarantine, do more to bring folks together than drive them apart.
- Why ask why? Recovery helped understand that my spiritual fitness is what colors my perception of life. When I’m consumed with self-centeredness and trapped in a perpetual cycle of self-pity, it’s easy to look at what happens in my life as the work of some sort of vengeful spirit or mischievous trickster. The good things in my life — the blessings and beauty that I can so often take for granted — get turned into burdens, and the challenges become curses that seem profoundly unfair, and I find myself asking, “Why me?” Most of the time, the answer to that question is, “Why not me?” When misfortune, illness and tragedy befall us, we often feel like Job of the Bible — beset on all sides by injustice and turmoil. In reality, those things are part and parcel of everyone’s life; they only seem so much more profound when they affect us directly. We lose a loved one or are beset by crippling financial problems or face life in the time of COVID-19, and we feel resentful, like these things are personally targeting us. The reality is that they target everyone, and asking “why?” often blinds me to the more important question: “What am I going to do about it?”
- And that, I think, is the most fundamental query of all. What am I going to do? Curl up in a fetal position? Get into a fistfight over toilet paper? Board up the doors and windows of my home? Or look for ways to stay positive, extend kindness and make a difference in my corner of the world? It’s hard, so hard sometimes, to accept life on life’s terms and wallow in the problem instead of getting into the solution, but the better angels of my nature demand more.
Because I believe in those angels — mine and yours — and their ability to prevail even in these trying times. I believe with every fiber of my being that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I believe that if we spend more of our time having conversations (digitally, if need be!) and putting one foot in front of the other and encouraging others in our lives not to despair, then we push back the darkness that threatens to overwhelm us in times like this.
That darkness won’t ever entirely dissipate, but a life well-lived is one spent pursuing those noble endeavors … and right now, we need them more than ever.
Love, man. Love is the only way. I don’t always feel it, and I certainly don’t always exhibit it, but love is the North Star that guides us all ... even when the waves hide it and the clouds obscure it and the screams of the fallen drown out the gentle whisper of the winds of peace.
If all of that sounds too metaphysical, that’s okay. Like I said, these are my truths. They don’t have to be yours. I just hope you have some, and that however you live your life during these uncertain times, you can go to bed at night feeling a little bit better about your little corner of the world and the things you’ve done within it to make it a better place.
Here’s your Friday motivation, friends.